Updated: 2663 reasons why the Parliamentary Ombudsman is not working

Sir Robert Behrens

Earlier this year I reported on a letter sent by Sir Robert Behrens, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, to MPs on the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee on why he could not implement a three year programme to improve the service for another year.

The letter revealed that Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, had decided not to go ahead with a three year funding plan to make it happen until 2022. As a result the Ombudsman would be expected to concentrate on complaints about Covid19 and would not have the budget to do much about improving the service beyond laying the bare bones of the idea.

I suspected that the service might be overwhelmed and asked for the figures on the number of people on the ” waiting list” to get their complaint heard and the number of cases where people were awaiting a decision. The media office declined to give me the information immediately and converted my press inquiry into a Freedom of Information request to delay it for 20 working days.

Physical queue could stretch from Millbank Tower to Westminster Bridge

We now know why. Figures released under that FOI request reveal that the Ombudsman show that a staggering 2663 people are in a virtual queue to await to be assigned to a caseworker. If everybody physically turned up ( not allowed at the moment due to the pandemic) it would stretch from the Ombudsman’s office at Millbank Tower right along the Embankment to the Houses of Parliament and possibly across Westminster Bridge.

They also released the figures awaiting a result from their complaint. That is 2699. So almost as many people are waiting to get to get a case worker to look into their complaint as the number of people waiting for a result.. That might explain the latest figures from the Ombudsman Office’s own performance standards review which shows that only 51 per cent gave a positive reply to the point “We will give you a final decision on your complaint as soon as we can”. It means 49 per cent weren’t impressed with that claim.

The Ombudsman’s Office have also told me that nowhere in their building is there ” any recorded information confirming that “the public will get worse service this year”. This seems to me more of an act of self denial than a possible statement of fact.

The Ombudsman seem to be relying on two mitigating developments to help them overcome this frankly appalling scenario.

Planned new NHS Complaints Handling Service

They are plans for a new model NHS Complaints Handling Service that will aim to take the pressure off the Ombudsman’s Office by trying to sort out patients’ complaints before they have to go to him. But as the section on this new procedure on the Ombudsman’s website discloses that these are only draft guidance. Participation by health bodies is voluntary and as yet plans for pilot projects have not been finalised. My guess is that probably the best health trusts will pilot it, the worst won’t want to know.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman’s latest controversial senior appointment: Rebecca Hilsenrath

The second move is the appointment of a £80,000 Director of External Affairs, Strategy and Communications to drive through the new strategy and report to Gill Fitzpatrick, chief operating officer. There is a full description on the headhunters website, Hays, of the job. Today ( April 12) the Ombudsman confirmed that the post had been filled by Rebecca Hilsenrath, the former chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, who officially resigned last week. Three months ago Ms Hilsenrath was in the centre of a row that she had twice breached lockdown rules by going with her family to her Welsh country cottage. You can read about the allegations and her resignation in two articles I wrote for Byline Times articles here and here. By all accounts this is a very curious and controversial appointment.

Altogether the situation at the Ombudsman’s Office does not present a pretty picture. A cynic might say it is not a priority to put money into watchdog bodies because all it does is highlight problems when things go wrong. And a government that would love to stay in power forever wants to present the idea that the UK has world beating public services and hide anything that might detract from that propaganda.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman File

Here are previous stories on this blog on the issue

https://davidhencke.com/2021/03/20/revealed-the-ombudsmans-much-delayed-justice-train-for-50swomen-lost-pensions/

https://davidhencke.com/2021/02/21/parliamentary-ombudsman-dont-contact-us-well-contact-you/

https://davidhencke.com/2021/02/10/will-your-complaint-get-heard-as-the-government-forces-the-parliamentary-ombudsman-to-curb-its-service/

https://davidhencke.com/2021/01/25/why-the-archaic-parliamentary-and-health-ombudsman-needs-a-modern-make-over/

Updated: The Ombudsman’s much delayed justice train for 50swomen lost pensions

Sir Robert Behrens:Parliamentary Ombudsman

Parliamentary Ombudsman slips out progress report on 50s and 60s born women pensions complaint

It is commonly known in Whitehall that if want to bury bad news, choose an obscure part of your website, make a big announcement and don’t put out a press release .Yesterday I found out Sir Robert Behrens, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, has done just that.

His announcement on the progress of his four year long investigation on maladministration by the Department for Work and Pensions over notifying the women amounts to pretty much a non announcement. Partly this is because he is restricted by an Ombudsman law which urgently needs updating, Partly it is his own fault that he has made so little progress.

I suspect that he may have thought it was a good idea to make this announcement because it was clear from the recent report on the Ombudsman by the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee that people are dissatisfied with his progress. There are conflicting reports that another announcement may be imminent to follow this up.

WASPI Cheltenham statement yesterday

Cheltenham WASPI 19th March

We understand that the Parliamentary & Health Service Ombudsman may make an announcement “imminently”.We expect that this will be the official result of the first stage of their investigation. This will decide whether there was maladministration when we were given inadequate notice of the changes to our State Pension Age.

There are three stages that must be completed before decisions about any compensation can be made:Stage 1: Was there maladministration?Stage 2: If so, did the maladministration lead to injustice?Stage 3: If so, what recommendations should be made to put things right? This could include compensation.It is important to remember that a positive decision on maladministration does not automatically mean that we will get compensation. It is only the first step in the process. Please note that any decision made by the Ombudsman will apply to ALL 1950s women affected by a delay to their State Pension, not just those who have made an official complaint.You can read full details of this process, and how compensation is calculated, here https://www.ombudsman.org.uk/complaints-womens-state…We will let you know as soon as we hear anything further. In the meantime please share this information with anyone you know who’s affected.”

ReplyForward

It will have to be good if it is meant to mollify people he hasn’t done a good job. The announcement is good in explaining to people how an Ombudsman handles an inquiry and why people need to be patient but bad in hiding his own mistakes which have contributed to this delay.

The worst example of this was his decision to pause the investigation in 2017 the moment it became clear that the BackTo60 group, campaigning for the women, were going to the courts for a judicial review on behalf of the 3.8 million women who thought they had been cheated by the decision.

Belatedly yesterday he has now admitted this was false.

“We have reviewed the Court of Appeal’s judgment and it does not affect our investigation. Our investigation is looking at the issues from a different perspective to the courts,” says the announcement.

DWP lawyers argued in court that the ministry had no obligation to tell the women

The announcement suggests that – despite the DWP’s lawyers arguing in the courts that under the 1995 Act the DWP had no obligation in law to tell anyone about the change – that the failure to inform everyone affected properly could have been maladministration. The announcement admits that the first stage of the investigation on this matter is complete and they have a preliminary finding but are not allowed by law – under the 1967 Ombudsman Act – to tell any member of the public about it.

The second clue is that he talks about the second stage – which is discussing any financial remedy for maladministration. This can only happen if the first stage is proved. The advice says there were “complaints that women were given inaccurate information about the number of years of National Insurance contributions they needed to receive a full State Pension. We will be looking at this issue as part of stage two of our investigation. “

  “Our investigation is looking at the issues from a different perspective to the courts,” Parliamentary Ombudsman

What is depressing for the women is what the Ombudsman has ruled out . He won’t investigate full restitution or the payments of ” auto credits” – up to five years of insurance contributions only for men over the age of 60. The auto credits are controversial because originally the government intended to give them to women between 2010 and 2018 when they raised the pension age.

Low compensation

The level of compensation is also likely to be low – the one example he gives is a figure of between £500 and £950. In fact the Ombudsman can order anything from an apology and no compensation to over £10,000 in the most extreme cases.

This will be a drop in the ocean for those who have lost £40,000 or more from this decision.

It looks like any compensation will be for all including women born in the 1960s as well as the 1950s.

The real scandal is how long this will take. Covid 19 has already killed a substantial number of women in this group and bad health, stress and poverty is putting many others at risk. You only have to read the comments from people on my blog to see this.

No idea when he will report

He can’t even give a ball park date when he will report. The more he delays the fewer people will get any compensation because they will be dead. Unlike other inquiries the grim reaper will keep reducing the size of the overall compensation package.

While Covid 19 has left the government with huge bills, the effect of the pandemic since it is more severe on the elderly is reducing the Treasury’s pension bill and killing off those who would have got a pension later.

I wouldn’t suggest that ministers would be so callous to welcome the huge number of deaths among the elderly, but it is certainly saving them a lot of money on pension costs.

Exclusive: General Medical Council investigation exonerates Dr Usha Prasad of any medical failings

Dr Usha Prasad

Dr Usha Prasad, the cardiologist currently appealing against her dismissal from the Epsom and St Helier University Trust, has been exonerated by General Medical Council of any medical failings or putting patient safety at risk.

The decision by the GMC not only rejected a dossier of complaints from the trust but decided that the issue was closed and will not be re-opened again by the GMC.

The decision is part of a long running saga that has been going on for nine years and heightened by an anonymous letter sent by Dr Perikala, a staff doctor, who made the patient safety allegations in an anonymous letter to the General Medical Council, Care Quality Commission, Daniel Elkeles, the chief executive of the trust and Jeremy Hunt, then the health secretary in 2015.

The GMC initially declined to investigate Dr Perikala’s anonymous complaint but the trust has persisted in pursuing her at the GMC.

dr james marsh pic credit: Epsom and St Helier University Health Trust

I understand Dr James Marsh, the trust’s medical director, and Dr Richard Bogle, the lead cardiologist at the trust, compiled a dossier of no fewer than 43 cases which they claimed should be investigated. The GMC narrowed it down to seven cases and sent them for review to a very distinguished consultant at the James Cook Hospital in Middlesbrough whose career has spanned work at Papworth Hospital and Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. The very detailed report came back completely exonerating her of any failings. She has also received glowing references from Pinderfields Hospital where she is currently working as a cardiologist after the Epsom trust dismissed her.

Dr Richard Bogle pic credit:www.richardbogle.com

The GMC’s decision comes just as an internal inquiry into her appeal is under way. This is being heard by Claire McLaughlan   an independent consultant, and Associate Director of  the National Clinical Assessment Service with an interest in the remediation, reskilling and rehabilitation of healthcare professionals. The case was also being followed by Dr Zoe Penn, Medical Director NHS England ,London Region and Lead for Professional Standards. She is sitting on the panel with Claire McLaughlan. Ms Mclaughlan runs a private business with her husband in Hampshire.

The fact that the hearing is taking place now is questionable since Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director of NHS England, told health trusts NOT to hold such hearings when the NHS is under pressure from the pandemic. I checked with the press office of NHS Resolutions and they have supplied me with the guidance for such hearings. They really should only be held if there is an absolute necessity and immediate risk to patient safety. Now with the GMC deciding there is no current and immediate risk to patient safety in Dr Prasad’s case – this makes the hearing even more questionable.

Officially the GMC will not comment on personal cases but they did confirm her clean bill of health entry on their public register which is reproduced below. All entries on this register have to be kept up to date on a daily basis. The saga continues but the case being made by the trust looks pretty weak after this decision by the GMC.

There are three earlier blogs on this issue.

They are: A bizarre tribunal hearing on the treatment of Epsom’s health-trust’s sole woman cardiologist

Top cardiologists back Usha Prasad’s fight against ” badly behaving ” health trust

Botched internal inquiry hearing into Dr Usha Prasad at St Helier Hospital as doctors fight death from Covid- 19

 

Since this blog was published I have had this strong message of support from Justice for Doctors. Here it is:

Dear Mr. Hencke, you are doing an excellent job by highlighting the problems with our NHS and how splendid doctors like Usha Prasad had been treated. It was very courageous of Usha to challenge the wrongdoings and the harsh decisions by our health institutions at a time when the GMC are calling retired doctors to rescue the overstretched NHS.

Without dedicated and committed doctors like Usha Prasad, our NHS will crumble and collapse. The misleaders and bullies will remain to demolish what goodness is left in our NHS. Unfortunately, most doctors retire or change location whenever they were unfairly challenged. Moving away will not solve the problem but encourage bullies and harassers to thrive and do more damage.

In our view, Dr. Prasad has won the moment she decided to stand firm and challenge the discrimination, the harsh and unfair decisions. We congratulate both of you for raising awareness about what goes on in our hospitals and congratulate Usha for her courage and conviction.
Thank you
On behalf of Justice for Doctors

Parliamentary Ombudsman: Don’t contact us, we’ll contact you

Sir Rob Behrens, Parliamentary Ombudsman

Sir Robert Behrens, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. has finally come clean publicly that it cannot cope with handling complaints and has issued a public statement.

This followed a blog I wrote earlier revealing that the Ombudsman had faced fresh curbs on its budget from the Treasury. Instead of a new three year budget to help improve services it has only been given one year of funding.

But it chose not to announce that publicly and instead sent a letter to William Wragg, the Tory chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, hiding it a Parliamentary correspondence file.

In the letter Sir Robert says “We will postpone the launch of PHSO’s new three-year strategy until we can secure the three-year funding settlement necessary to deliver it. Instead, we will use 2021-22 as a bridging year to lay the foundations for the new strategy and focus on addressing the significant operational challenges facing PHSO’s service.”

Several months of delays

Now the Ombudsman has stuck a long statement on its site which reads:

“Our service remains open but given the unprecedented situation you may experience delays of several months when you bring a complaint to us. We are very sorry about the delay and will do our best to support you through these uncertain times. We will focus on helping the most vulnerable as a priority. 

To help us work through the complaints we are receiving, please do not submit a complaint to us if it is about:

•    delays with complaint responses 
•    matters which are likely to resolve themselves within the next few weeks/months
•    delays in service delivery which are non-critical and are the result of an organisation coping with COVID-19.

Please use our complaint checker below to make sure your complaint is ready for us to look at.

The pressures currently faced by the NHS may mean that it is not possible for us to progress some health complaints at this time. Your caseworker will keep you informed of any delays with your case.

For more information read our latest Coronavirus update.

Please continue to check our website or follow us on Twitter for further updates. ”

still not entirely transparent

The statement is still not entirely transparent as it blames Covid 19 entirely for the problem when it is also being hit by the postponement of its budget settlement. The Ombudsman also caused consternation among some people awaiting the result of their complaints by taking down the site on Saturday and Sunday morning without any explanation. Most banks and building societies put up a notice saying a site would not be available because they are working on it. Not so the uncommunicative Ombudsman.

This led one of my readers, Darren Watts, to contact me because he thought the Ombudsman had closed down the website. He is one of a large number of people awaiting the result of a complaint. I am extremely grateful for him letting me know and also grateful that the service was restored. I have to add I am not very impressed to say the least.

Will your complaint get heard as the Government forces the Parliamentary Ombudsman to curb its service?

Rishi Sunak: Postponing the cash to improve the Ombudsman service

The Parliamentary Ombudsman has already – as I wrote in an earlier blog – faced a critical report from MPs on the way it handles some of its work.

And Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, has also turned down any prospect of new legislation to modernise the service by combining its work with the local government and social care ombudsman.

Not content with that, Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, has now postponed a three year funding programme which would have allowed it to introduce changes to improve matters.

Instead The Treasury has decided to give it just one year’s worth of funding and instructed it to concentrate on handling complaints arising out of Covid 19 pushing aside other grievances..

Details of this latest bad news has not been put out in any press release by the Ombudsman but has been hidden away in the correspondence section of the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committtee.

A letter from Rob Behrens, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, to William Wragg, the Tory chair of the committee, reveals the not very bright future for people wanting to take the NHS to the Ombudsman or for the 1950s born women hoping for compensation for maladministration over the six year rise in the date they could claim their pension.

In the letter Mr Behrens says “We will postpone the launch of PHSO’s new three-year strategy until we can secure the three-year funding settlement necessary to deliver it. Instead, we will use 2021-22 as a bridging year to lay the foundations for the new strategy and focus on addressing the significant operational challenges facing PHSO’s service.”

Severely affected by Covid – 19

He goes on to describe what next financial year will be like:

“PHSO’s service has been severely affected by the ongoing COVID-19 situation in a number of ways, from the impact of school closures on the availability of staff, to pressures on the NHS that mean services are taking longer to respond to PHSO’s requests for information.
“As a result, PHSO is closing substantially fewer cases than usual and, in turn, this means a growing number of complainants are waiting for their case to be allocated to a caseworker.
“Although we have started to recruit some more caseworkers, it takes a minimum of six months to train new staff and even with additional caseworkers, it is clear that complainants will face increasingly long wait times unless we take further action.”

Delaying revealing the size of the complaints waiting list

I asked the Ombudsman to give me details of how many cases they were and how long they were taking. I also asked about the size of the waiting list. Simple questions enough if they are on top of the job. Instead they have decided to turn it into a Freedom of Information request which will give them a month or two to reply. I will report back when I have the figures.

In the meantime the letter says: “This means we will prioritise the quality and productivity of PHSO’s core complaints-handling service. We will also use 2021-22 to carry out preliminary work to support the new three-year strategy, such as improvements to some of PHSO’s core systems and processes, and highlighting
opportunities for Parliament to make essential improvements to PHSO’s legal framework, such as removing the MP filter.” The latter point is that all complaints have to go through MPs at the moment.

The whole situation is not good at all. But I am not surprised that the government is not keen on funding or modernising the service. A more efficient service will bring to light injustices – which means a bad press for government services – and ministers don’t like bad publicity. Far better to deprive the Ombudsman of cash and keep the announcement hidden in the correspondence column of a committee.

How journalists and bloggers can counter Covid 19 misinformation during the pandemic

The Ethical Journalist Network held a thought provoking webinar this week where experts gave top tips for journalists in writing up stories, read by millions of people, about the latest scientific and factual developments in the current world wide pandemic. As a member of the EJN UK committee myself I am reproducing the report written by Ali May, a fellow member of the committee. As he says it is an issue of life and death.

If you click on the headline it will take you to the EJN website where you see the original article ( reproduced below), learn more about the charity and read about other key issues journalists cover. Here is the full recording of the session chaired by investigative journalist James Ball.

A complete recording of the panel for those who want to delve into the issues.

EJN panel shares expert tips for journalists on tackling Covid-19 misinformation

By Ali May, EJN UK Committee member

As vaccines effective against the novel Coronavirus begin their global rollout, tackling misinformation, disinformation and earning public confidence could not be more starkly an issue of life and death.

This was the theme of a panel for the Ethical Journalism Network chaired by EJN trustee and Bureau of Investigative Journalism global editor James Ball, in which experts explored the role of journalists in tackling disinformation, the communicating of public health messages, and online fact-checking during this key phase of response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

What should journalists do to tackle misinformation, where are such myths coming from, and how can reporters avoid inadvertently becoming vectors for health misinformation? Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, Kate Wilkinson, Nina Jankowicz, Anjana Ahuja and Marianna Spring joined Ball to share their insights.

A wave of misinformation about Coronavirus on social media has evolved over the past year, observed BBC Specialist Reporter Marianna Spring who covers disinformation and social media.

“At the beginning, it was lots of panicked viral WhatsApp messages, voice notes, lots of really understandable concern about what was going on about lockdowns, about how you could cure or prevent Coronavirus and while it was often spread quite innocently, its impact could often be really quite bad, giving people bad health advice, advice at a time when they most need good advice and resulting in direct harm. And as the pandemic went on, you started to see the human cost of that misinformation,” she said.

The same sentiment was reflected in comments by Nina Jankowicz, the author of How to Lose the Information War.

“Disinformation is not just silly memes on the internet. It’s not just fringe groups, talking about fringy things, but it has offline harm. And I think over the last year, we have seen case after case after case of that harm being borne out in real life.”

She pointed at the case of Ukrainians evacuated from Wuhan in the early days of the pandemic whose return caused riots in the country, with their bus attacked.

In such a tricky environment, the importance of fact-checking has become vital. And it comes in different forms, depending on the context. Fact-checking sometimes needs to play a diplomatic role, according to Kate Wilkinson, deputy chief editor at Africa Check.

“You sometimes have to act as a bit of a bridge between what’s happening on the ground, and what the scientific community thinks is worthy of their time and attention,” she said, “What can be difficult though, is when you go to an expert, a scientist, or a doctor who is understandably under quite a lot of pressure and stress, and you take what they consider to be quite ridiculous concepts or ideas, and you want half an hour of their time to actually unpack it. So, you can explain accurately why that can’t be the case, you sometimes get a mismatch between what the public is really fervently believing and what the experts or the scientists believe is worth their time or worth debunking.”

Editorial judgement becomes much more important at times of crisis. In the middle of a global pandemic, journalists have to make “a nuanced judgment about where the balance of evidence lies,” said science journalist Anjana Ahuja, a contributing writer for the Financial Times.

“Deciding what to platform is important,” she said, “There’s no point me putting up something quite frivolous just to knock it down, because that actually just circulates the idea further.”

Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, author of the Art of Statistics, said there was reason to be optimistic, caused by the side effects of the pandemic.

“The relationship between the media and experts has matured,” he said, “experts have become, hopefully, better at expressing uncertainty, about inadequacy of explaining that the evidence isn’t good enough to be confident either way.”

He hoped that journalists will “realise that science is a hotly disputed area, that basically, there’s a lot of uncertainty, there are groups with different opinions that never been aired in public.”

Tips for journalists, shared by the panellists:

  • Get in there first. Counter the misinformation before people hear it on WhatsApp.
  • Don’t try to use tricks to be trusted. Demonstrate trustworthiness on a purely ethical basis.
  • Think carefully about what issues are worth legitimising by covering, and how issues might need to be reframed. In the case of climate change, Ahuja says ‘I decided to reframe it in my writing as climate emergency or crisis. Because it suggests that with climate change there is no question. The extent is how much do we need to worry about it? It’s happening.’
  • Meet people where they are in a language that they understand.
  • Approach people and the issues they hold strongly with empathy. Disinformation and conspiracy theories online can have a significant impact on people. Understanding the legitimate concerns and fears often explain why they’ve sought out those conspiracies, or where they have been preyed upon or conned into believing them. Separate those who are victims or casualties of online falsehoods and conspiracies from those often very small number of committed activists or bad actors who are deliberately looking to exploit that nervousness or that concern.

How rip off Rishi manipulated National Savings punters only to dump on them when it suited him

Rip of Rishi Sunak – the manipulative chancellor

In November I wrote a blog castigating Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, for his introduction of “rip off ” rates for safe savers – many of them pensioners – who have National Savings accounts.

As I said at the time; ” Effectively Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, is making sure that millions of savers and those who have a flutter on the Premium Bonds subsidise the government’s multi billion pay outs by losing money every year they invest.”

Now thanks to the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee – which took up the issue of the low rates -and also poor customer service, record levels of complaints and long waits hanging on their phone lines – his whole dastardly plot has been exposed.

Mel Stride MP pic credit: gov.uk

Mel Stride, Conservative chair of the committee, decided to write to Ian Ackerley, Chief Executive of National Savings and Investments, demanding an explanation.

Today the committee has published his reply with a tough comment from Mr Stride about what happened.

” damage may have been done to NS&I’s reputation”

He said: “An exodus of savers from NS&I when it cut interest rates in November was foreseeable and so it is disappointing that the average time to answer a customer’s call was 19 minutes that month.

I would like to thank Mr Ackerley for his frank response, but the damage that may have been done to NS&I’s reputation over the last few months is worrying.

“NS&I has a big role to play in helping the Government fund the costs of the coronavirus recovery scheme and it will need to work hard to win back customers.”

But what is really interesting is Mr Ackerley’s explanation of how these changes in interest rates came about.

Ministers took decision not to cut interest rates

After Rishi Sunak became chancellor and pandemic took hold he decided to deliberately to attract savers to get the government out of a spending hole.

As National Savings says:

“In March 2020, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, HM Treasury asked NS&I to provide proposals for how NS&I could quickly provide additional funding beyond the £6 billion target to support the Government’s increased borrowing requirement. …A proposal was made to Ministers to reverse the decision to implement interest rate reductions to NS&I’s variable rate products that were announced in February (before the Covid-19 pandemic had taken hold) and which were due to come into effect on 1 May 2020. “

“Ministers made the decision to proceed with this plan and on 1 May, only interest rate reductions on NS&I’s fixed term products came into effect. Variable rate product interest rates were left unchanged.”

By September it had been too successful. ” There was unexpectedly more cash in the savings market and much of this money came to NS&I – £38.3 billion in net inflows from March to September 2020 – this was a greater level of Net Financing than in the previous three years combined.”

Plan to drive savers away

So a decision was then made deliberately to drive savers away by introducing rock bottom rates because he no longer needed it.

National Savings said: “Based on previous patterns, we expected that a proportion of customers would withdraw their money. However, as many were newer customers who had come to NS&I when we were offering ‘best buy’ rates, the scale of the outflows and the timing of customers cashing in their holdings happened earlier than expected.
“A combination of factors has impacted our customer service operations which has been stressful for some customers and staff. We did not intend for this to happen but we do not believe that the situation could have been predicted.”

What happened was a rise in complaints, people waiting nearly 20 minutes on the phone to contact them and general disatisfaction with the service.

What is not said though is that the government will not want people to continue saving when the pandemic is over. They will need to spend to revive the economy. What better way to empty savings accounts than to make them so unattractive that people lose money keeping cash there.

So the real story is that this government is deliberately manipulating punters to suit its own interests -putting money away when they can’t spend it during the pandemic – and forcing them to spend it when the pandemic is over. They must take the average saver to be a fool.

Revealed: The poor health in old age scandal

Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer, gave evidence on the damning statistics effecting the healthy living prospects for the elderly Pic credit: gov.uk

Today the House of Lords published an extremely worrying report into the prospect for millions of elderly people being able to enjoy a healthy old age.

I had not realised that Theresa May’s government had committed in 2017 to the Ageing Society Grand Challenge – a promise by 2035 that everybody in the country should be able to enjoy an extra five years good health in retirement. I have a feeling like the notice of the first raising of the pension age it has had little publicity.

Readers of my blog who have followed the BackTo60 campaign to get 3.8 million women born in the 1950s full restitution for their lost pensions will greet this aim with a hollow laugh – given there is growing anecdotal evidence that many women in their early 60s are already falling ill while working before they can even claim their pension. I wrote a blog about the figures in 2018 – see here.

But what this report confirms is not only that life expectancy has flatlined since 2011 but prospects for a healthy retirement has got worse particularly for the poor. The report reveals that the chances for a man to get an extra five years healthy retirement will take not 14 years as promised by the challenge but an incredible 75 years. They will be long dead by 2096.

For a woman it is actually worse – chances of having an extra five years healthy retirement is receding and getting worse by the day.

Figures in the report confirm what the Office for National Statistics has disclosed that Britain is slipping down the league table of advanced countries for those living longer – with men, who on average die earlier than women, have a higher increase in longevity than women. See my blog on this here.

Growing equality gap between rich and poor areas

But what is deeply disturbing is the huge gap between those in wealthy and deprived areas.

The report says: “In England in the period 2016–18, the difference in life expectancy between the most and least deprived areas was 9.5 years for males and 7.5 years for females. The differences in healthy life expectancy are 18.9 years for males and 19.4 years for females.”

The report notes: “the health situation is somewhat similar to other countries that have experienced
political, social and economic disruption and widening social and economic inequalities.” The report also noted that “in some of the key social determinants, inequalities are widening in England”.

The largest killer of men is heart disease and for women it is Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia. Heart disease deaths are falling while dementia is on the rise which explains the changes in longevity.

In a 2016 analysis of 20 countries, females in the UK had the lowest rate of improvement in life expectancy, followed by those in the USA. For males, the UK had the second-lowest rate of improvement,
after the USA.

The report concludes:” Inequalities in healthy life expectancy are stark, with people in the least deprived groups living more than 18 years longer in good health than those in the most deprived groups.”

This also hit ethnic minorities very badly as evidence given by Professor Chris Whitty , the chief medical officer to peers. He told them: “People from ethnic minorities are more likely to live in poverty in older age; 29% of Asian or Asian British people and 33% of Black or Black British people over the age of 65 live in poverty, compared with 14% of White people.”

Will it get better or worse?

So what is to be done and will it get worse ? For a start it will get worse because of Covid19 as the report was mainly written before the pandemic took hold and it is known that Covid killed disproportionately larger numbers of the elderly saving the DWP over £600m a year in pension payouts. In a postscript to the report the peers from science and technology committee say both short term and long term effects are an unknown.

On the positive side new technologies and robotics and new drug trials to treat diseases promise to make life better for the elderly provided they can access them.

Peers warn that unless growing inequality is tackled by the government – these benefits could widen the gap between rich and poor as wealthier pensioners would be able to benefit while the poor would be left behind.

The report also exposes the lack of a government strategy at the top to tackle this.

Peers say: “The Government is not on track to achieve the Ageing Society Grand Challenge mission to ensure five years of extra healthy life by 2035 while reducing inequalities, and does not appear to be monitoring progress towards the mission. It is hard to see how the target could be met without significant changes to the way it is managed.”

For those who criticise the House of Lords as an irrelevant institution – this report shows the House working at its best – it is a very thorough, well researched report – drawing attention to an overlooked issue and warning the government that it needs urgently to act to take this seriously. Whether it will, given the complacency of some ministers, is another matter.

The full report can be accessed here.

Boris Johnson’s and his Cabinet cronies real Christmas message to you all

I am looking forward to a wonderful Christmas. Click on the link below.

This is a revised link using You Tube after someone who did not like this got Facebook to take down the original. I wonder why and who did it.

There is not much more I can say about this except it is beyond satire. Some of us might just think it is really what goes on in their minds.

How on earth could the Bank of England lose track of £50 billion of our money?

Specimen £20 note – where have they all gone? Pic credit: James Oxley Bank of England

Bizarre story about the missing money

Today a report from MPs revealed the extraordinary fact that the Bank of England doesn’t know where £50 billion of its bank notes are.

It also revealed that since the Covid 19 lockdown the number of notes issued by the Bank of England is at an all time record. Yet this is at time when contactless payments by credit and debit cards are also at an all time high and many shops do not want to accept any cash at all.

Already a year before the Covid 19 led to lockdowns and smashed the economy some 7.4 million people – mainly in the 18-34 year age group were estimated to have virtually stopped using cash altogether.

So what is happening? We both can’t have a growing number of people no longer using cash yet record numbers of banks notes in circulation. There is something strange going on and the Bank of England seems remarkably complacent about it.

As Meg Hillier, Labour chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, which produced the report says:

” £50 billion of sterling notes – or about three quarters of this precious and dwindling supply – is stashed somewhere but the Bank of England doesn’t know where, who by or what for – and doesn’t seem very curious. It needs to be more concerned about where the missing £50 billion is. Depending where it is and what it’s being used for, that amount of money could have material implications for public policy and the public purse.  The Bank needs to get a better handle on the national currency it controls.”

There is some curious speculation in the report. They wonder whether the people who traditionally like payments in cash – window cleaners, gardeners, the odd job man or woman are salting away the money. Or is it because – as I have reported before – that Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, is offering such appalling interest rates for savers – that they are keeping the cash under the mattress?

Are criminals sorting away the cash?

Or is it something darker like criminals using the cash for nefarious purposes -or has the money been salted away in tax havens or are the Russians or Chinese siphoning off the cash hoping the British economy implodes?

The MPs are demanding the Bank of England investigates so we should have an answer early next year.

The same report also highlighted quite a different problem – that people in poor and rural areas have difficulty accessing this huge amount of cash in the system.

In September, the National Audit Office said that the Treasury, Bank of England, Royal Mint, the Financial Conduct Authority and Payments Systems Regulator need to coordinate more effectively so that people have access to cash.

But the number of cash machines are declining and the Post Office is not open all hours. so people can’t always access cash.

The Royal Mint is losing money striking coins as well.

The report said: “The Mint’s UK coin production has reduced by 65% over the last ten years, from about 1.1 billion coins made in 2010–11 to 383 million in 2019–20. This reflects the overall fall in production demand over the period, although production volumes increased in some years, for example between 2012 and 2016 with the issue of new 5p, 10p and £1 coins replacing stock already in circulation.”

Mass dumping of coins

It revealed that people have also been dumping coins in massive amounts. The report said:

“A Mint-run exercise to recall the old £1 coin, as an increasing counterfeit risk, led to an unexpectedly huge return of coins of all denominations as households and businesses emptied their stocks of coins. This led to a large increase in coin stocks and a consequent reduction in the number of coins that needed to be produced.”

But there still is some demand for coins.

The report said: “It now expects the Treasury to ask it to manufacture new 2p coins in the next 6 months and more £2 coins within the next 3 years. Nevertheless, the Mint expects the increase in demand to be temporary, and that the long-term impact of the pandemic will be to exacerbate the decline in coin use.”

Meanwhile it has lost millions of pounds for the last three years in minting new coins as it coins as it costs more than their face value to produce them.